In the 16 months that this government has been in office, the Assembly has met five times and sat for 28 days, two days of which were taken up with the oath taking of the newly-elected MLAs and vote of confidence in the government, followed by the election of the Speaker
It was February 2011, the 50th year of Goa’s Liberation and Dr Raghunath Mashelkar was delivering the inaugural lecture in the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas on the topic ‘Making Impossible Possible’. At that point of time he was also chairing the Goa Golden Jubilee Development Committee that was drawing up a roadmap for Goa 2035. The scientist, saying he will not be around in the future, made a wish that day, that God grant him as special day to visit the earth in 2035 so that he would with his own eyes see the glory in which Goa was shining.
The year 2035 is not far now, it approaches at a rapid speed but has Goa taken the path towards Goa shining? Is the State any closer to making that dream of Goa come true?
Less than a year and a half ago, Goans stood in queues and voted for a new government. The dispensation that was sworn in was not the one that was mandated by the people. For a few days it caused some consternation, but drew little surprise in a State that has had a history of governments being toppled and the rug being pulled from under the feet of chief ministers. Soon an abject feeling of déjà vu crept in and the people went about their quotidian with a shrug that almost said, these things happen. But this group of political leaders who moved quickly to wrest power, has not displayed the same speed in delivering on promises made.
It is not just regular elections that strengthen a democracy. When legislators – whether seated on the treasury benches or the opposition – are deprived of their right to demand answers from the government, then democracy cannot be said to be vibrant. Representative government, which democracy promises, can only be brought about when the elected representatives are allowed to exercise their right to legislative scrutiny.
In the 16 months that this government has been in office, the Assembly has met five times and sat for 28 days, two days of which were taken up with the oath taking of the newly-elected MLAs and vote of confidence in the government, followed by the election of the Speaker. So practically the legislators have discussed and deliberated on legislative matters for just 26 days in 16 months. How’s that for a vibrant democracy? You, the people, are the umpires and it is you who will answer that question.
While the Constitution directs that there shall not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of the Assembly, it does not mean that this has to be taken literally and Assembly sessions be spread across to meet as rarely as possible.
Goa expects more from its 40 legislators, who have been elected to make laws. And here’s an opportunity, as the Legislative Assembly convenes on Thursday, here is a chance for Goa to make its democracy a lot more vibrant. The Assembly will sit for 12 days beginning today. It will discuss and debate the Budget, it will also discuss some critical bills, the amendment to the TCP Act bringing about Transferable Development Rights is one, which will have far-reaching consequences on the land and the landscape.
Goa expects its MLAs to stand with the people on issues, that they will put aside their individual preferences when they stand to speak in the House, that they will vote keeping in mind the future of Goa and the Goan.
The last Assembly session in February this year lasted four days, and saw the Budget being tabled and a vote on account being passed. The detailed budget comprising taxes and schemes was not presented. The session starting on Thursday, will be a longer one, 12 days in all, and will have the discussion on the Budget and the demands on grants. It is almost a given that the opposition will move cut motions and these will be defeated in the vote that follows. But the role of the opposition goes beyond that.
Long years ago, former chief minister the late Dr Wilfred de Souza, during one of his stints in the Opposition had in a casual conversation stated that the only power he had as an MLA was to stand in the Assembly and question the government.
The role of any opposition is questioning the government and this opposition has failed to make the government squirm, whether in the House or outside it. The opposition, the one party with the largest number of MLAs in the House, appears to be more disorganised than the government that is made up of three disparate parties and three Independent MLAs. The opposition had sought that this session be increased as there were a number of issues to discus, which was turned down.
Can the opposition MLAs, by their performance this session, and the time allotted, demonstrate their effectiveness as an opposition and justify their demand for a longer session? We don’t need longer sessions for record purposes. We need them for high quality debate as we take the path to 2035. The road is long, but the destination will be reached soon, the question is what will we find there, a Goa shining, or a Goa scorched?